Commando (1985) | Mark L. Lester
Hi welcome to around the world in eighties movies. My name is vince leo i am the author of the film review website webster dot net. I invite you to check out over four thousand of my written reviews and read their anytime quips. Dot net is where to go q. w. I p. s. t. e. r. dot net while you're there. I do encourage you to check out my podcast that looks at brand new movies out in the theaters ears are on VOD year streaming services wherever you happen to take in your new movies. I try to cover at least the ones that i'm interested in. You can find that information at my website quip webster dot net today. I'm going to be looking at the second part of a three part series in which i review films of the nineteen eighties three films of the nineteen eighties at feature commandos sandos as part of the main cast last week. We looked at predator this week. We're going to look at another film that features arnold schwarzenegger and it's a natural choice because it's called well simply commando. It came out in nineteen eighty-five. It's an r. rated film because of well so much violence strong violence language nudity. The run time is about an hour and a half arnold schwarzenegger as i mentioned is the star we have supporting roles going to radon chong. Dan eliza milano vernon wells james olson david patrick kelly and bill duke. The director is mark. L lester screenplay credited to stephen e desouza commander. I have a lot of history with in fact when i was a teenager i remember renting this and being not very enamored of it. I thought it was just too silly and not at all a good movie over time. I've tended to like it a little bit more each time but i've never gotten quite to the point where i fully embraced it. Even though i know that there are a lot of people that really love commando window for their own reasons so because i'm doing a film that specifically looks at the nineteen eighty s and what is so great about the movies then try to put on my goggles goals of what it is that people look for whether it meets those expectations and whether it's accessible and i will give my review. Will i come around on this this or will i not. I guess you'll have to listen and find out now. Commandos the film that set the mold for the iconic arnold schwarzenegger screen persona that we all know today he really it shows off for the first time in his career his charisma his penchant for one liners has he delivers kill shots and prior to commando his high profile roles mostly consisted of have minimal dialogue. You had the gruff conan the barbarian and its sequel and there was a more robotic delivery in the terminator of course this one's more in keeping with the many of the one man army films of the nineteen eighties. You know that sub genre was popularized by first blood and the rambo sequels and it features high. AM f- assists on bulging biceps very oil physiques comic book level dialogue very cartoonish scenarios high kill counts usually the more are the better and action figure ready displays of braun now unlike stallone's rambo series however arnold schwarzenegger's brand of action usually shoes shoes political motivation in rambo of course we had the vietnam soldier experience this one's more in favor of the personal what it means to the character and not necessarily early for the country here arnold is fighting for his daughter not for the government or what he perceives of as the national ideals nevertheless how effortlessly schwarzenegger assumes <hes> this role is impressive but it's not nearly as impressive as the fact that he inhabits and even epitomizes the all american soldier and quintessential action hero as as a foreigner and this non native english speaker. That's perhaps the biggest feat that schwarzenegger makes in his early career with commando now commando as as far as the plot goes schwarzenegger stars as colonel. John matrix is a highly trained military special ops expert who's unit was disbanded and he now lives under a secret grid identities in retirement matrix spends his days as a single father taking care of his spirited young daughter jenny played by eliza milano. He's promised to jenny he that he would not go out on any more special missions. However john's hand ends up getting forrest. Jenny is abducted by this displaced south american dictator played by dan had idea of this banana republic named valle verde who wants his old gig back the dictator plans to use jenny for ransom so that he can get john to put out an assassination nation on the current leader velvety now thinking that jenny is going to get killed even if he fulfills these demands matrix sets about instead dismantling the small armie the dictator has around him with the help of this airline attendant that he encounters named cindy played by radon chong on the hope that he can rescue his daughter before she ends up getting killed the by the dictator or one of his henchmen. Now the idea for commando really started a long time before it was actually made into a movie would stay stagnant for years in so called development hell jeff lobe or joseph loeb as he sometimes is credited he would later make his claim to fame writing comic books most famously but before that he was doing screenplays he wrote the original screenplay with his collaborative partner at that time matthew weisman about this former military black ops commando who had trouble double escaping his past once their screenplay was complete lobe in wiseman had the notion that would be a starring vehicle for a personal friend of theirs at that time kiss guitar god gene gene simmons. They wanted to portray their main character. As this former israeli soldier who escapes his violent past escaping to the united states only to find that his deadly lee skills that he thought he had retired for good with ended up having to come into play when his wife and daughter would end up getting kidnapped the bad guys were going to force him onto a plane to complete cletus mission for them but then he gets off the plane without their knowledge and then he says his watch with countdown when the plane was slated to be landing knowing had until that moment to get his revenge or his wife and child would die for sure now gene simmons ended up expressing disinterest in actually pursuing this so logan weisman ended up retooling that script and they they had nick nolte in mind to star if he would accept they changed the israeli ex-soldier to this out of shape and out of practice former commando from the united states aides who was coming back from this prolonged. Stay in the middle east now. The new twentieth century fox chairman at that time in one thousand nine hundred eighty four ish barry diller miller his first order of business was to try to secure a starring vehicle for arnold schwarzenegger that could be made for relatively cheap about ten or twelve million dollars. He felt that schwarzenegger occur was ripe for this leap from stardom to superstardom. If he had the right film the right projects after looking through seemingly countless scripts dillard determined that commando would be the best option if the script were better tailored instead of to nick nolte but to schwarzenegger strengths as an actor in personality little bit akin to the way that he would handle blaxploitation exploitation films for jim brown he did in the nineteen seventies diller would attach mark l lester to direct he had experienced making exploitation flicks in this vein lester was just coming off of the hit fire-starter to direct after producer joel silver gave the script to stephen e desouza now desouza they had worked for silver on the screenplay to forty eight hours. They wanted to do this complete overhaul to give a less earthy and less serious tone to the script that logan urban weisman had done they wanted to shoe the reluctance to commit violence to have the main character actually killing unarmed baddies just because then they wanted to provide more opportunity ready for self aware action genre parody larger than life personality the gloriously jacked up action that would end up resulting in commando additional revisions would end up punching up more of that script with the help of screenwriters like larry gross in richard tuggle but many of the tongue in cheek quips that you find the more memorable ones anyway were improvised during the shoot arnold schwarzenegger has a big sense of humor he would frequently joke around with the cast and crew and they would end up throwing outlines that he would say and he would try them out and they would end up picking the one that they liked best lester envisioned the film like an old james bond movie where sean connery would riley pun after performing kill so many of the punch align came up on the spot and they ended up using that to kinda lighten the deadliness. I guess a little bit of comic relief. During this very high kill count now the the new angle taken by the screenplay pleased schwarzenegger quite a bit. He felt that this could be the one that could break him out of the mold of the sparse dialogue parts like conan or the terminator mediator. He didn't have to exist in the past or in the future. It showed him as a modern man with a daughter in home a normal guy he envisioned himself taking roles that john wayne play and then this was one of them for good reason the credited screenwriter stephanie desouza claims that a lot of the inspiration for commando came from the tough but jokey tone of john ford's classic western called the searchers as well as some plot and character elements that he took from the bogart film the film noir from one thousand nine hundred thousand nine called tokyo joe after some studio executives at fox balked at schwarzenegger being cast as an american soldier. They suggested that they find way to shoot the film without actually having him talk at all desouza ended up working diligently with schwarzenegger over the dialogue in the film they wanted to change lines in the dialogue ella to minimize the instances where his thick austrian accent would become too obvious now arne shows that he has a screen presence here to be a major player in the the action movie genre but that alone is not going to carry a film from awful two good although a few of the stunts are nifty many performed by schwarzenegger himself because he thought that a stunt stunt man with his build just could not be found so had a nasty self-inflicted knife gash on his hand that required a trip to the hospital to get stitches. It was a modest us budget film but it would require a lot of location shooting so a lot of it had to be done not far from home in central and southern california and places like san simeon or santa barbara. Which is where i'm from <hes> catalina island in los angeles fans of the films of the nineteen eighties are also going to recognize a familiar at location in the compound of the would be president of valve already. This was the same locale. The one that was owned by harold lloyd way back in the day. It was the same locale the mansion abode of the big bad victor maitland in beverly hills cop. Even so the shoot was brisk. It started in late april. One thousand nine hundred five ended up in theaters in early october so they really cheering. This went out very quickly. The casting of radon chong as has schwarzenegger's comic relief sidekick that tends to yield lesser results here. She doesn't quite have the comic timing of her counterpart. Even though she's a little bit more in tune with with comedy she had beat out the likes of sharon stone and brigitte nielsen brigitte nielsen started with schwarzenegger with red sonja that same year chong beat them out for the part primarily primarily because unlike the other hot actresses of the time they felt based on her audition and the fact that she was the daughter of comedian tommy chong of cheech and chong fame that she could be sexy and funny at the same time so she would really fit that role parole serves mostly here to try to make comments about the ridiculousness of the aggressive hyper masculinity. Ask you'll entity that she's witnessing between these ronnie men that she encounters and through the extreme contrivances involved in keeping her as part of the plot especially as she becomes was part of the action. That's even more ridiculous. This is a film that you have to embrace that is going to not try to make a lot of santa's just trying to really up the entertainment with actor in humor and action the role of the deposed dictator. That's a particularly awful one. I feel for dan haditha his bad spanish accent his vote hand ap's the cheese factor to the point where he can scarcely be taken seriously mark l lester the director was uncomfortable with that as well he originally intended to cast ouled julia in the part producer joel silver though insisted odile is more than up to the task in the end lester would be content with results though and he proclaims commando as his his personal favourite film that he's made in his career now commando would mark joel silver's first film production for twentieth century fox that would prove to be a lucrative collaboration ration- over the years he would go on to produce the aforementioned predator he produced die hard after this in addition to going after schwarzenegger as his hero silver would also also insist on spotlighting the use of weaponries especially new weaponry usually not seen on film before as part of this appealing visual aesthetic that he wanted commando to espouse. He emphasized a wide variety of instruments of death to almost absurdly pornographic proportions and had been a comedy. I guess all could be forgiven but it's funniest commando so is for the duration a lotta the last come without intention in addition to the lack of genuine lasts from radon chong as the comic relief sidekick there apparently really was not much chemistry between her and arnie as love interests either that was intended but it didn't come to fruition they reportedly were going to have this love scene aboard an airplane and as the headed to the private island run by the deposed dictator but in staging it they realized not only was it bad timing for the story but when they tried to go through this it lacks so much sizzle. It was eventually nixed now. Even if arnold schwarzenegger is not a gifted actor. He's always very fun to watch especially in the way that he can rise is above the schlock to give very good physical and comic performance. It allows the audience to feel a sense of fun right along with him. When schwarzenegger is off the screen however interest interest wanes considerably and unfortunately the cuts back to the bad guys layer come a little too frequently for the momentum to not sputter on occasion even when when arnold is in front of the camera he's not really given a lot of a script to work with action scenes mostly consists of finding new ways for him to dispatch mostly cardboard henchmen until the predictable conclusion pits him with his dictator and matrixes former comrade who apparently has an ax to grind and something to prove about being the best soul during the world that character is named bennett and he's played by vernon wells now in commando schwarzenegger shows a lighter more humorous side than he had shown before that caricature pitcher that spins into an overriding persona it seems to match his own natural personality best and it would become the template for a lot of other schwarzenegger films to build around from here on out mark lester and the team seemed to make a concerted effort to get arnold shirtless whenever possible they show him chopping wood or carrying giant logs. I really ups deterioration factor glimpsing this adana slight physique in its full and oil up glory now after originally being turned down after auditioning additioning for the role that vernon wells he impressed joel silver with a psycho performance in another film he produced earlier that year called weird science. Wells proves to be very fun foil for schwarzenegger. He chews up just as much scenery in his villainy. With the kind of off the charts zany some would say homo erotic undertones that he gave to his character in his prior famous performance as well as in mad max two the road warrior. Well says that any gay subtext that he gives to bennett was completely completely unintentional even mark l lester also disregards this look at that film as well but a lot of fans refer to the character as freddie mercury on steroids his character character seems to have quite a bit of respect for john matrix and his prowess for combat to the point where it does actually come across kind of like a sexual need to prove his manhood once they actually get that into each other's presence so certainly that homo erotic subtext can easily be read into this film and feel justified now vernon wells at this time he was a little bit portly and he was flown in from australia at the kind of at the last moment after the original cast wings hauser was fired by mark l lester on the first day of shooting because he just didn't seem to click dick as this maniacal counterbalance to arnold's larger than life portrayal of matrix wells would have to wear the this too tight wardrobe it was designed for wings hauser smaller frame and that further didn't complement the pont your physique he was sporting at the time and due to the fact that he seemed like a really nice guy when he came over and he was somewhat holding back when he was rehearsing the scenes schwarzenegger he was initially skeptical that vernon wells could handle this role physically or menacingly really he even reportedly called him a bit of a list to the director thought that they should get somebody else however once they got into this actual scene where they filmed where wells i had to put a knife to arnie's neck his wild-eyed intensity has humorously winking attitude at his performance one arne over and it resulted in that necessary cicero counterbalance they were looking for to schwarzenegger's resolve in fact wells performance in that scene felt so intense to arnold schwarzenegger. That schwarzenegger insisted that any scene involving bennett using a knife would have to be with a plastic prop. He was not trusting to go too far. Wells character infatuation with being the one to take out matrix bricks makes through tango at the end quite a bit of fun to observe even if the tension is not entirely palpable from a storytelling standpoint and despite schwarzenegger's quibbles on wells' houses casting they ended up becoming friends during the shoot and they remained good friends to this day and that kind of extends to alyssa milano as well she was twelve years old at the time she also so found friendship with arnie during the making of commando she even claimed that arnold schwarzenegger helped her with the algebra portion of her homework on occasion during the shoot now <hes> some of the lines that are used in commando seem familiar they they like i said tended to go with things that they knew arnold could say and say with certainty without the austrian accent accent to getting in the way wrong. I'll be back and f you a whole those were three of the lines that he uses in commando that he also delivered delivered in equally monotone fashion in the terminator just a year before now. This was one of the main films made in the one thousand nine hundred realized the potential for playing up its ridiculousness to the max and the makers seemed to relish going far over the top in its camp value to make for an entertaining time during the shoot mark l lester saw how many people john rambo rambo would kill in rambo to you went to the movie theater and saw that he knew he had to top that for arnold he up the kill count for the movie commando so specifically to outdo rambo during the scene where matrix begins to attack the dictator's compound in and kills in this film go into the triple digits stuntman would have to change their appearance because they were going to get killed several times they have to put on fake mustaches or fake hats in just do it all over again because they had more kills and they had actual people to kill the cost of this killing extravaganza did end up putting a huge dent into the budget of commando however to the point where it became too costly to shoot the actual intended ending of the film that ending was going to involve john matrix chasing bennett on speedboats and they end up having this knife fight on the beach of another island to the death. They ended up having to have that final knife fight in a basement instead. Now commando was a very big hit for arne in one thousand nine hundred five. It became the number one movie in the country the first week of its release and the next two weeks of its release three weeks in a row number one in the united states at at the box office all told iraq thirty five million dollars in the united states added another twenty two million dollars internationally all of that under reported budget of about nine to ten million this film that at the time for a long time it was more highly regarded internationally than it had been in the united states especially in russia they would even and do a remake of commando is so popular there in two thousand eight and they put a big russian action star named mikhail chekhov in the main role there in two thousand ten there were rumors mursal surfaced about an attempt to do another hollywood remake. Nothing did materialize however it is. Also a favourite film for movie goers in japan really catapulted alyssa milano. She was kind of a big star. There over the years her popularity in this film and in japan caused one japanese record company company executive to offer milano a five record deal as a seeker even though she was not known for being a senior all records ended up going the equivalent of platinum him in japan. She's very popular in japan and so is this movie now also commando ends with this notion that there would be no return of john matrix as an an action hero stephen still end up writing a screenplay draft for a sequel the following year they had revisions done with the aid of frank darabont and predators. John mckiernan was tagged as a potential director for this follow up the suzanne revealed many many years later that the plot involved john matrix running his own security firm and he was hired by this major corporation to protect their executives and their other assets but he soon discovers that this corporation is not on the up and up they're doing illegal arms arms sales as the actual main source of revenue and he would have to go one man army once again take down not only the corporation but also all of the super macho <music> security guards that he had hired for them and that results in this ending where he has to break into the building that he himself was tasked to make ultra secure in order to save radon chong and alyssa milano characters who are trapped there with the bad guys in the building now some have claimed that many elements of the screenplay would eventually get used as the the script for diehard which was coincidentally directed by john mckiernan and was co written by desouza but desouza still vehemently denies. This is the case he states. That diehard was directly adapted from the roderick thorp novel. Nothing lasts forever that happens to be some coincidences there but he definitely apparently did not retool commando to be diehard despite the fact that a lot of people do still think that he did now getting back to commando from nineteen eighty-five admittedly there's not a lot of interesting plot to follow if you're somebody who likes to follow plots or really get into characters here there finley define their colorful though the many any facets of them are definitely very memorable but commandos appeal. I think still is limited to seeing arnold rack up a high kill count without much need for lengthy explanation explanation. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea and for the longest time it was not my cup of tea. If you're a fan of arnold schwarzenegger or wantonly violent england and grandiosely preposterous action flicks. I think commando is probably already a favourite film of yours and i have to say it did when me over. I actually enjoyed watching commando for this. Week's review in fact. I watched it twice for the purpose of this review because i was on the fence i was like can i really recommend this film knowing that it is a big dumb action movie well the makers of the film also no it was a big dumb action in fact they set out to make a big action movie when that didn't have any of the pretense of the rambo series. They just really wanted to showcase what arnold schwarzenegger can do and it does deliver. Arnold schwarzenegger is a delight in this film and the absurd proportions of the actual violence manages manages to temper the fact that it is a very bloody and violent movie to the point where you just cannot take it seriously if you embrace it early on you'll have a great time and and i do think that commando is very effective in that way and it was a very influential movie not only in schwarzenegger's career but the fact that you know so many action movies especially through the nineteen nineties ninety s really dug into this kind of action movie filmmaking big and dumb and over the top and that's why a lot of people love those films and you know i have a problem with that most of the time but commando for setting the mold i think should get some credit at the very least now. The director's cut is out there. It does add not a lot. It adds like a minute and a half a little bit over that for additional footage reveals a few things like the reason why matrix is a single father and some of his backstory and why he so keen on spending as much time as he can with his daughter so it does get a little bit more nuance to his character. I don't think it makes the film any better than you would probably think it was even without those elements so i'm gonna give commando three stars out of four stars means. I do think that this is a worthwhile film for those people who like this kind of movie. If you're a huge arnold schwarzenegger fan how could you not like commando it pretty much is arnold schwarzenegger like personified. He would do variations on this character multiple times throughout his career so it's hard to believe that somebody could love arnold schwarzenegger and hey commando. I do think that commando is very very firmly embraced by his fans action movie lovers especially of action movies in the nineteen eighties are going to love this film as well so i do think that it delivers all of the goods kids and some of the bats that you would expect from a big dumb action movie three stars out of four four commandos as far as going to be getting into next week keeping up with commandos yes in films of the nineteen eighties. We're gonna go into a little bit of we had a couple of green beret films number going to get him to delta force here so a little bit more army special ops action with delta force which came out the following year from commando and it stars another big action movie star from the nineteen eighties. I think this is the first one hundred and one films in finally getting to chuck norris film chuck norris lee marvin and many others robert forster are in this film. I'm playing gets hijacked. Delta force sent in to resolve the crisis. That's going to be my review for next week so check out the delta force from nineteen eighty six ford ford next week's review on. You'll stay caught up on that. Thanks everyone for listening. I hope that you enjoyed the review of commando. If you have your own thoughts and commando whether you actually loved the movie even more than the i think i think a lot of people do or actually think the movie sucks a lot more than me. A lot of people do that. Do you write to me you can find my contact information on my website. You can go to quip stood dot net and find all the details tails on that at least in my twitter feed facebook page my instagram all of that is available equity dot net. TWIP s. t. e. r. dot net until next time. Thanks everyone for joining me on this journey around the world in eighties movies.